Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Objectivity of God, Morality, and Evil: A Perspective from Jesus

* This is my presentation for the panel discussion entitled "God, Morality, and Evil" held at Glendale Community College (Glendale, AZ) on October 27, 2015.

* A cleaner version of this paper can be found on my Academia.edu page.

The Objectivity of God, Morality, and Evil: A Perspective from Jesus
Richard Klaus
October 27, 2015


·      I want to make three quick comments by way of preface before beginning my formal presentation…

1.     First, I want to say, “Thank you. “

a.     Thank you to Glendale Community College for hosting this event.

                                                        i.     The topics before us are controversial and can provoke spirited emotions.

                                                       ii.     It is good that GCC would sponsor such forums so as to model reasoned, civil discourse.

b.     Thank you to Professor Peter Lupu for his invitation to be on the panel.

2.     Second, when I sit where you all are sitting and I hear that a Christian is going to speak I want to know what “brand” of Christian—who is it, exactly, that is representing “team Jesus.”

a.     Although I want to speak broadly enough to encompass what C. S. Lewis called “mere Christianity” I am aware that my particular background beliefs will affect my presentation and discussion.

b.     I am a Protestant and find myself most closely aligned with conservative evangelicalism.

c.      I am currently the pastor of Northminster Presbyterian Church in Phoenix.

3.     My third point by way of preface is simply to say that my presentation is also posted online at my blog: whiterosereview.blogspot.com. 

o   Yes, this is shameless self-promotion of my blog—but it is more…

o   This online version has fuller discussion in the footnotes of issues that are of relevance to the presentation.  (Again… whiterosereview.blogspot.com)

·      Now to my presentation…


·      “God, Morality, and Evil”—Entire multi-volume tomes have been written on each of these categories!

o   We can only begin to scratch the surface here today…

o   and begin the process of reflection and discussion

·      I would like to take as my entry point into my presentation the words of Jesus…[1]

·      When confronted with the question, “What is the greatest commandment?”

o   Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel!  The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’  The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no other commandment greater than these.”  Mark 12.29-31  (Quoting: Deuteronomy 6.4-5 and Leviticus 19.18)

·      Jesus’ answer speaks to the issues before us—if not explicitly, then, surely, implicitly.  An entire worldview is presupposed in this statement!

·      Notice that when asked a question about morality Jesus starts with a statement about God…

·      My contention is that what one affirms or denies about God will have profound consequences for the other two categories of “morality” and “evil.”


·      Jesus’ view of God is firmly rooted in the Judaism of his day.[2]

·      His quotation here and elsewhere of the Hebrew Scriptures shows that his conception of God is defined by this revelation given to the people Israel

·      Just a few items concerning the nature of God as understood by Jesus…

·      First, Jesus is a “theistic realist”—God exists as a mind-independent reality[3]

·      The God of Israel is the Creator and Sustainer of all that exists

·      He is good, loving, holy, and all-powerful.

·      This God is a God of revelation

o   God manifests his character in his actions in the created order

o   God communicates his thoughts through sanctioned spokesman (prophets)

o   God acts in human history both in “normal” providence as well as in “miraculous” interventions

§  In other words, Jesus is no deist[4] but has a supernaturalistic worldview

·      Jesus’ view of God is one in which God himself has a unique personality and is pursuing specific goals in relation to himself and the world

·      This is crucial to understand! 

·      As Notre Dame Philosopher Michael Rea notes:

“One odd feature of much contemporary philosophy of religion is that it seems to portray God as having a ‘personality’ that is almost entirely empty, allowing his behavior to be almost exhaustively determined by facts about how it would be best for others for an omnipotent being to behave.  But why should we grant this portrayal, or anything like it?  God is supposed to be a person not only of unsurpassable love and goodness, but of unsurpassable beauty.  And it is not at all clear that God could be that sort of person if the portrayal of God as (effectively) a cosmic, others-oriented utility-maximizing machine were correct.  For it is hard to see how a person could manage to be unsurpassably beautiful, or even very beautiful at all, without having a highly complex personality and motivational structure.”[5]

·      In other words, for Jesus (and the rest of the biblical witness) God is pursuing a number of purposes—not all of which are human-centered

·      The Christian tradition has spoken of the “glory of God” as the highest value in reality[6]

o   This idea of the “glory of God” being the highest good will be important in properly understanding the problem of evil.

·      This leads naturally to our next topic…


·      As we saw from Jesus, the greatest commandment is to love this God of glory with every facet of one’s being—heart, soul, mind, and strength.

·      This is a full-person response to God and his ways.

·      This is, not merely, assent to a few propositions about God’s existence or attributes.[7]

·      What, then, does it mean to “love God?” 

·      For our purposes here today the following description may suffice:

“…to love God is to give him what he deserves: to honor him by obeying him, worshipping him, and trusting him.  To love God means to set one’s central affections on him by allowing him to be God and Lord and by responding to his love and forgiveness in faith, love, and forgiveness (cf. Luke 7:36-50).”[8]

·      Perhaps here would be a good place to talk briefly about the philosophical foundations of Christian ethical theory.

·      Although Jesus did not develop a philosophy of ethics or engage in meta-ethical inquiry his teaching did presuppose certain philosophical presuppositions.[9]

·      For example, Jesus considered God to be good (Mark 10.18) and that the character of God expressed in his love and mercy provided the template for his followers’ obligation to manifest the same characteristics of love and mercy.

o   “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Matthew 5.48

o   “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”  Luke 6.36

·      All this is consistent with a Divine Command Theory of ethics.

·      William Craig offers the following three points that are illustrative of Christian-theistic ethics and compatible with the teaching of Jesus.

·      (1) “First, if theism is true, we have a sound basis for objective moral values.  To say that there are objective moral values is to say that something is good or evil independently of whether anybody believes it to be so.  It is to say, for example, that the Holocaust was morally evil even though the Nazis who carried out the Holocaust thought it was good.

“On the theistic view, objective moral values are rooted in God.  He is the locus and source of moral value.  God’s own holy and loving nature supplies the absolute standard against which all actions are measured.  He is by nature loving, generous, just, faithful, kind, and so forth.  Thus, if God exists, objective moral values exist.”

·      (2) “Second, if theism is true, we have a sound basis for objective moral duties.  To say that we have objective moral duties is to say that we have certain moral obligations regardless of whether we think so or not.

“On the theistic view, God’s moral nature is expressed toward us in the form of divine commands that constitute our moral duties.  Far from being arbitrary, these commands flow necessarily from his moral nature.  On this foundation we can affirm the objective goodness and rightness of love, generosity, self-sacrifice, and equality, and condemn as objectively evil and wrong selfishness, hatred, abuse, discrimination, and oppression.”

·      (3)  “Third, if theism is true, we have a sound basis for moral accountability.  On the theistic view, God holds all persons morally accountable for their actions.  Evil and wrong will be punished; righteousness will be vindicated.  Despite the inequalities of this life, in the end the scales of God’s justice will be balanced.  We can even undertake acts of extreme self-sacrifice that run contrary to our self-interest, knowing that such acts are not empty and ultimately meaningless gestures.  Thus, the moral choices we make in this life are infused with an eternal significance.”[10]

·      These three points seem, to me, to be consistent with the ethical teaching and practice of Jesus and the rest of the Scriptural witness.

o   I am not unaware of various objections—particularly the Euthyphro objection—that need to be dealt with by versions of Divine Command Ethics.[11]

o   Also, space constraints don’t allow me to look at the other side of the coin—namely that naturalism does not provide an adequate basis on which to ground the objectivity of ethics.[12]

·      This brings me to briefly discuss the final topic…


·      The failure to live in alignment with God—by loving him and entering into his love for our neighbors—this is fundamentally evil.

·      The refusal to live in accordance with the reality of God and his ways means that we invariably introduce “god-substitutes” into our thinking and lives.[13]

o   The biblical witness calls this idolatry and it is a form of cosmic treason.

·      The biblical language for this cosmic treason and resultant alienation is SIN

·      We tend to think of “sin” as an action or attitude—something episodic. 

o   This doesn’t do justice to the biblical understanding

·      Theodore Plantinga rightly captures the biblical dynamic:

“Sin is not just an act or a feeling in one’s heart but a condition… The sinner alienates himself by his act of rebellion, and then finds himself in state of alienation, needing reconciliation.”[14]

·      It is precisely due to this state of ethical alienation that the Christian tradition looks to Jesus Christ not simply as a great moral teacher but, even more so, as the Savior.

·      As the unique Son of God, Jesus’ death and resurrection provide the focal point of God’s dealing decisively with our moral evil and rebellion.[15]

o   In aligning ourselves with Jesus and trusting in his person—his death becomes ours and we are reunited to life in God.

·      More could be said here but I want to address briefly one final issue… the problem of evil.[16]

·      First, there is no such thing as the problem of evil…

o   Rather, there are problems of evil—and they are not all of the same kind.[17]

o   We can distinguish between the philosophical problems of evil

§  Deductive and inductive (or evidential)[18]

§  Types of evil: moral, natural, and demonic

o   and the practical or existential problems of evil[19]

§  Evil touches all of us and it hurts

§  One’s worldview should seek not only answers to the philosophical issues but also provide the resources for helping to deal with the existential problems of evil[20]

·      I want to provide some perspectives on the problems evil

o   Not a full-blown theodicy or nice-and-tidy “answer” to the problems of evil

·      Christian theism takes evil seriously

o   It doesn’t deny or downplay the reality of evil that besets our world

o   It argues that nothing less than the active power and presence of God himself is needed to overthrow and defeat evil in the world

§  ASIDE: Denying God may render the concept of “evil” problematic[21]

·      Perspective #1: A Christ and Cross-centered Greater-Good Defense

o   A Greater-good defense explains the existence of evil in terms of the greater goods that come out of it

§  Traditionally suggested greater goods: free-will; soul-making

o   Christ and cross-centered greater good

o   Alvin Plantinga explains:

“Given the truth of Christian belief, however, there is also a contingent good-making characteristic of our world—one that isn’t present in all worlds—that towers above all the rest of the contingent states of affairs included in our world: the unthinkably great good of divine Incarnation and Atonement.  Jesus Christ, the second person of the divine trinity, incomparably good, holy, and sinless, was willing to empty himself, to take on our flesh and become incarnate and to suffer and die so that we human beings can have life and be reconciled to the Father.  In order to accomplish this, he was willing to undergo suffering of a depth and intensity we cannot so much as imagine, including even the shattering climax of being abandoned by God the Father himself: ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’  God the Father, the first being of the whole universe, perfectly good and holy, all-powerful and all-knowing, was willing to permit his Son to undergo this suffering and to undergo enormous suffering himself in order to make it possible for us human beings to be reconciled to him.  And this in face of the fact that we have turned our back upon God, have rejected him, are sunk in sin, indeed, are inclined to resent God and our neighbor.  Could there be a display of love to rival this?  More to the present purpose, could there be a good-making feature of a world to rival this?”[22]

o   Plantinga argues that even a world in which all of humanity is sinless would not be a better world compared to a world in which God manifests his glory in the incarnation and atonement of Jesus Christ.[23]

o   Note: This Christ and cross-centered greater-good perspective does not necessarily explain the function of any particular evil

§  “Why did I get cancer?” or “Why did that hurricane kill those people?”

§  It does, however, provide the overall context of God’s plan in which evil plays a part

·      Perspective #2: The Engulfing Goodness of God

o   From the Christian perspective, right relationship with God is the greatest good for a person to experience (Psalm 16.11; 73.25-26; John 17.3)

o   For the Christian the evils and suffering in this life will be overwhelmingly over-ruled and engulfed in the glory of God’s presence[24]

§  Some Christian traditions have spoken of the “beatific vision” in which experiencing God’s presence in a transformed state will be the highest pinnacle of joy and satisfaction

§  Biblical data:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.  Romans 8.18

For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison…  2 Corinthians 4.17

·      Perspective #3: Trusting the God of the Resurrection

o   Many evils experienced are not seen—they don’t appear— to be good-producing

§  Difficult to see how God could possibly redeem or engulf such evil

·      “How can God bring good out of this evil!?”

o   For the Christian the crucifixion of Jesus—the cross of Christ—is the paradigmatic example of God bringing unspeakable goodness out of the depths of horrendous evil[25]

§  Crucifixion of Jesus is a horrendous evil

§  Through this horrendous evil there flowed profound good…

·      Salvation, cosmic reconciliation, and the manifestation of the glory of God

§  What is the mechanism which brought about this turn of events?

·      RESURRECTION of Jesus Christ

§  Christians affirm:

·      If God is able to exercise his sovereignty in such a way that

o   That there is a planned horrendous evil and

o   God is able to bring great good out of it…

o   Then God can be trusted to bring good out of the evils that beset them and the world.

·      Perspective #4: Looking to the Suffering Christ to Sustain Hope

o   Not so much about the philosophical problem of evil

o   Rather, the existential problem of evil[26]

§  “How do move forward in the midst of suffering?”

o   For the Christian, God has not left himself immune from suffering

“If the cross of Christ does not unveil the mystery of why God permits so much suffering in the first place… it does reveal his love in becoming incarnate to suffer with us.  He is not content to be immutable and impassible, to watch his writhing creation with the eye of cool reason.  He unites himself to a human consciousness and takes the suffering to himself.  Thus, he knows from experience what it is like for pain to drive everything else from finite consciousness and to press it to the limits of its endurance.”[27]

§  Biblical data:

“For it was fitting for him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings… Therefore, he had to be made like his brethren in all things, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.  For since he himself was tempted in that which he has suffered, he is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.”  Hebrews 2.10, 17-18

“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.  Therefore, let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time f need.”  Hebrews 4.15-16

“fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  For consider him who has endured such hostility by sinners against himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”  Hebrews 12.2-3

o   The perspective provides a sense of solidarity with Christ and hope in the midst of suffering

§  The Savior has suffered and he remembers the pain

§  His pressing through the pain even unto death yielded the good of the resurrection

§  This is the Christian’s hope as well

·      These four perspectives…

o   Do not “solve” the problems of evil

§  There are still difficulties and doubts that are faced

o   But these perspectives do begin to contextualize the problems of evil and provide both intellectual and existential resources to engage the many faces of evil


·      Christian tradition seeks to be faithful to Jesus as the King

·      What I’ve tried to show… (in short form)

o   Jesus speaks to the issues of God, morality, and evil in unique ways

o   One’s view of God—his character and nature…

§  determines the nature of one’s approach to morality and evil

·      It is not as though there are no difficulties or unanswered questions in following Jesus

o   Jesus’ teaching in the first century was difficult and challenging

o   On one occasion after teaching some difficult items that caused many to withdraw and stop following him he turned to the twelve apostles…

So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you.”

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”  --John 6.67-68

·      I have found again and again that in the midst of the difficulties of life—both intellectual and existential—that …

o   Jesus is the best reason to be a Christian and

o   Jesus is the best reason to stay a Christian

o   for he has the words of eternal life.


Appendix A: Some Thoughts on Deism

James Sire has a fine analysis of deism in his work The Universe Next Door, 5th edition (Downers Grove, Ill: Intervarsity Press, 2009), 47-65.  He makes a distinction between “cold deists” and “warm deists.”  Cold deists, like Voltaire were hostile to Christianity whereas warm deists, like Benjamin Franklin and John Locke, were friendly to Christianity.  Some warm deists believed in some form of providence.  Sire aptly notes:

Deism is the historical result of the decay of robust Christian theism.  That is, specific commitments and beliefs of traditional Christianity are gradually abandoned.  The first and most significant belief to be eroded was the full personhood and trinitarian nature of God.  Reducing God to a force or ultimate intelligence eventually had catastrophic results.[28]

Later Sire concludes:

[D]eism has not been a stable compound.  The reasons for this are not hard to see. Deism is dependent on Christian theism for its affirmations.  It is dependent on what it omits for its particular character.  The first and most important loss was its rejection of the full personal character of God.  God, in the minds of many in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, kept his omnipotence, his character as creator and, for the most part, his omniscience, but he lost his omnipresence (his intimate connection with and interest in his creation).  Eventually he lost even his will, becoming a mere abstract intelligent force, providing a sufficient reason for the existence of the universe whose origin otherwise could not be explained.[29]

Avery Dulles has also, pointed out some weaknesses in the deistic conception of God (at least in its 17th and 18th century versions) in his article “The Deist Minimum.”[30]  A few of Dulles’ criticisms are as follows:

(1) “Deism also suffered from grave philosophical weaknesses… Their epistemology was a shallow empiricism and their cosmology a universalized physics, both of which crumbled when faced with the penetrating critiques of David Hume and Immanuel Kant.”  (2) Deism “suffered from some internal tensions.  If there is an omnipotent God, capable of designing the entire universe and launching it into existence, it seems strange to hold that this God cannot intervene in the world He made or derogate from the laws He had established.”  (3)  “If God was infinite in being, moreover, it was unreasonable to reject the notion of mystery.  It would seem quite natural to suppose that there are depths of the divine being surpassing all that could be inferred from the created world.  We cannot know what is going on in the minds of our fellow human beings unless they manifest it by word or deed.  How much less, then, could we grasp the thoughts of God unless He were to disclose them to us by revelation?  Since God knows far more about Himself and His plans than His creatures do, it is difficult to see why He could not reveal truths hidden from reason that would be important for persons such as ourselves.”  (4) “[T]he deist God, who ceased to be active after launching the world into existence, seemed to be a useless vestige of the God of biblical religion.  If God never intervened in the world, His existence could only be, from a human perspective, superfluous.  It would be pointless to pray to Him or expect any blessings from Him.... Thus deism came to be a halfway house on the road to atheism.”  (5)  “Deism also fails as a religion.  Its static deity was a pallid reflection of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jesus Christ.  The religion of the New Testament and of orthodox Christianity offered hope and consolation that lay far beyond the powers of deism.  The gospel assures us that God never ceases to be active in the world: He freely calls us to Himself, hears our prayers, and enriches our lives with His grace.  The doctrine that God became man in order to raise us to share in His own divine life satisfied a deep desire of the human heart to which deism could not respond.  It was impossible to enter into communion of life and love with the cold and distant God of deism.

Appendix B: Some Thoughts on Naturalism and Ethics

            Can naturalism provide the needed intellectual framework in which objective values make sense?  A number of theistic philosophers have answered in the negative.  Earlier in this presentation I presented the thought of William Lane Craig and his understanding of Christian-theistic ethics regarding the areas of objective moral values, objective moral duties, and moral accountability.  Dr. Craig has also argued: “If theism is false, we do not have a sound foundation for morality.”[31]  Paul Copan argues similarly:

An ethic rooted in naturalistic evolution ends up being subjectivistic and ultimately reduces to relativism.  Ethics is simply illusory, as [Michael] Ruse argues (and, as [Daniel] Dennett notes, naturalistic evolution doesn’t leave room for genuine natural rights).  So Westerners may find abhorrent practices such as female circumcision or a widow’s self-immolation on the funeral pyre of her husband (outlawed in India under the British Raj).  But why presuppose moral duties or human dignity and rights?  On what metaphysical basis should one oppose such practices?  If ethical beliefs are simply hardwired into us for our fitness and survival, we have no reason to think these beliefs are true; they simply are.[32]

            Sometimes it is alleged that moral virtue can be objectively obtained by looking for that which maximizes the well-being of conscious creatures.  In this conception “bad” refers to the suffering of conscious creatures.  This can be based on demonstrable suffering.  There seems to be a philosophical move here that is too quick and without argument.  Surely we can speak of prudential value—that which is conducive to a human’s survival and well-being.  But this is not the same thing as moral value.  William Lane Craig, in responding to Mark Murphy’s views, argues against the confusion on this issue:

The claim here is that ‘what makes a state of affairs morally valuable (or disvaluable) is grounded in what makes a people better- (or worse-) off’ [Murphy’s idea].  What justification is there on naturalism, for this assertion, which represents the second step of his proposal?

“So far as I can see, the only justification Murphy offers for this assertion is that ‘the kind human is obviously a distinct sort of organism, and distinct in ways that are obviously ethically significant.  To take one example: human beings possess reflective and objectivizing intelligence, which enables them to call their inclinations into question and to see themselves as one person among others.’  This leaves me baffled as to the justification of Murphy’s grounding claim.  Certainly, if naturalism were true, human beings would still b distinct organisms possessed with reflective and objectivizing intelligence.  Such properties could still be said to be ethically significant in the sense that they are necessary conditions of being an agent and, a fortiori, of being a moral agent.  But I see no reason to think, without begging the question, that humans are therefore objectively morally valuable or have any moral obligations.[33] 

            Of course, the issue is not whether a naturalist and theist can share some of the same basic moral values—they can and do.  The more important question revolves around the grounding of those values.  Given non-purposive naturalism “it is not clear how one can establish normative values on the basis of processes that are ultimately thoroughly unconscious, nonnormative, and contingent in nature.”[34]

Appendix C: Some Objections to Plantinga’s Supralapsarian Defense

            Alvin Plantinga’s approach to the problem of evil in his essay “Supralapsarianism, or ‘O Felix Culpa’” has drawn various objections.[35]  A few will be mentioned here with brief responses from defenders of Plantinga’s approach.
            One objection is that on this view “we can no longer condemn evil and injustice as wholly antithetical to what is good.”[36]  Ian Spencer goes on to state:

One might also find this sentiment expressed various other ways: “It would make evil good”, “It would trivialize peoples’ pain and suffering”, “It would rid us of our reasons for preventing evil”, and so.  But these sort of objections represent a significant misunderstanding of the view under consideration.  As Stewart (1993, 146) insists, the Fall and evil are inherently bad.  They just so happen to also be instrumentally good.  One mistake behind the kind of objection we are now considering is to fail to see this difference.  That something is instrumentally good and that God is justified in allowing it for something greater does not render that thing any less bad in its own right.  Indeed, such a cost ought to be seen as indeed costly and genuinely lamentable in its necessity.  It ought not to make any of us any less vigilant against evil since we are not in God’s position and morality (as well as God himself) still demands that we prevent evil.  Indeed, our prevention of evil is precisely one of the higher order goods for which evil exists in the first place.[37]

            A second objection concerns the fear that in Plantinga’s approach human creatures are used as a means to bring about God’s ends of creating a better world.  P. Roger Turner is responding to Marilyn McCord Adam’s objection which he labels as Z:

Z: Human creatures are used as a means to bring about God’s ends of creating a
     better than level L world.

Turner responds:

Second, I take it that Z is false, or at least weak.  I think the statement is true, but the sentiment is misguided.  Adams (whose objection is represented by Z) takes it that it would be wrong for God to use His created beings to bring about His ultimate ends; however, why should we consider God’s having used His creation for His own purposes as “not morally permissible?”  Perhaps it is true (and I take it that it is) that humans cannot morally use others as solely a means to an end; however, why must it be the case that God be a respecter of persons?  It seems rather clear from the Bible that God is not required to be a respecter of persons and His loving His created beings is simply out of His own graciousness and for His own glorification.  It must be asked, for whom is the best possible world the best?  Remember that we said God creates for Himself, not for any other (above, p. 43).  If this is the case, and it certainly seems that it is (at least in the Christian tradition since it is held that He was not required to create at all), then the best possible world—that is, any world of value greater than L—must be the best for God.  It is simply God’s grace that He loves us and cares for us, that He decided to create a world that not only best glorifies Him but also allows us to have fellowship with him in our fallen state and then, more perfectly, in our resurrected state.  The proper sentiments, it seems to me, would be one of thankfulness that God uses His fallen creatures at all (whether as a species or person in particular); this, in itself, is an act of grace on His part, not an act of mercilessness.  So, Z must be rejected.  The Christian must view God’s creative actions (or any actions) from a theocentric point-of-view rather than an anthropocentric one.[38]

            Turner’s thought about the best world being for God and his glory has firm roots in Scripture and in the history of theology.  Reformed theologian Charles Hodge, writing in the late nineteenth century, argued in a similar manner:

The glory of God being the greatest end of all things, we are not obliged to assume that this is the best possible world for the production of happiness, or even for securing the greatest degree of holiness among rational creatures.  It is wisely adapted for the end for which it was designed, namely, the manifestation of the manifold perfections of God.  That God, in revealing Himself, does promote the highest good of His creatures, consistent with the promotion of His own glory, may be admitted.  But to reverse this order, to make the good of the creature the highest end, is to pervert and subvert the whole scheme; it is to put the means for the end, to subordinate God to the universe, the Infinite to the finite.[39]

     [1] Demonstrating the reliability of the New Testament portrait of Jesus is beyond the bounds of this presentation.  For a recent defense of the historicity and reliability of the Gospels see: Paul Rhodes Eddy and Gregory A. Boyd, The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2007).

     [2] As New Testament scholar Scot McKnight observes: “What Jesus said about God was consistent with what he learned in public religious gatherings and from his parents.  Jesus taught no new thing about God, and his experience with God was consonant with what other Jews, in Israel’s past and present, had already experienced or were experiencing.  Christian attempts to contend that Jesus taught a new idea of God amount to little more than vain polemics and wishful thinking.  The pages of the Gospels teach nothing about God that does not have a substantial background in Jewish literature and experience.”  A New Vision for Israel: The Teachings of Jesus in National Context (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1999), 21.

     [3] This is contrary to those portraits of God today by some “progressive” or “liberal” Christians in which God is a metaphor for the world process.  For documentation that modern liberal, or progressive, Christianity argues in this manner see my articles: “Liberalism and its Pantheizing Tendency” (12/26/2013)—available online: http://whiterosereview.blogspot.com/2013/12/liberal-theology-and-its-pantheizing.html; “Liberalism and its Naturalizing Tendency” (1/28/2014)—available online: http://whiterosereview.blogspot.com/2014/01/liberal-theology-and-its-naturalizing.html.

     [4] See Appendix A for critical interaction with deism.

     [5] Michael C. Rea, “Narrative, Liturgy, and the Hiddenness of God,” in Metaphysics and God: Essays in Honor of Eleonore Stump, ed. by Kevin Timpe (NY: Routledge, 2009), 18 [note: page number is to online version available here: https://www3.nd.edu/~mrea/papers/Narrative%20and%20Hiddenness.pdf.

     [6] Steve Hays has articulated this idea in this way: “A theological value-system will take God as the most valuable object, as well as the source and standard of mundane values.  God will be the most valuable object in two respects: (1) At a metaphysical or absolute level: of what he is, in and of himself. His intrinsic value.  (2) At an epistemic or relative level: of what he is to another or others.  His extrinsic value.  How he’s valued by others.  Or how he ought to be valued by others.  According to (ii), knowing God is the highest good because, according to (i), God is the highest good.”  Steve Hays, “Appendix 4: The Problem of Evil” in The End of Infidelity by Steve Hays and Jason Engwer; edited by Peter Pike (e-book, n.d), 202-203.  Available online: https://calvindude.org/ebooks/stevehays/The-End-of-Infidelity.pdf.

     [7] “A God worthy of worship would be morally perfect and hence would seek a special kind of human knowledge of God: curative knowledge that goes beyond knowledge that God exists.  Such curative knowledge would include human reconciliation to God to some degree, and therefore would be redemptive, or salvific, for humans to some extent… In addition, it would require that humans self-identify with God in curative ways toward others.” Paul K. Moser, “God and Epistemic Authority” Journal of Cultural and Religious Theory 14.2 (2015), 415.

     [8] McKnight, A New Vision for Israel, 209.  McKnight helpfully adds, “It must be emphasized that love of God and obedience are not two separate religious responses, with the former superior and more enlightened.  Love among Israelites includes obedience as the manner in which love is expressed.”

     [9] This is analogous to Jesus’ use of logic.  As Dallas Willard points out, Jesus did not develop a theory of logic but he was, nonetheless, imminently logically in his teaching.  See Willard’s essay “Jesus the Logician.”  Available online: http://www.dwillard.org/articles/artview.asp?artID=39.

     [10] William Lane Craig, “Opening Statement” Is Goodness without God Good Enough? A Debate on Faith, Secularism, and Ethics; editors, Robert K. Garcia and Nathan L. King (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield), 30-31.

     [11] One recent work advocating and defending a Divine Command Theory of ethics is the work of Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan, Did God Really Command Genocide? Coming to Terms with the Justice of God (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2014).

     [12] See Appendix B for some thoughts on this topic.

     [13] The apostle Paul in Romans 1.18ff speaks to this dynamic.  When people refuse to “honor God” as is his due and refuse to give him thanks they become “futile in their speculations” and their epistemic faculties are “darkened”—Romans 1.21.  The refusal to love God—the greatest commandment—has ethical and epistemic consequences.  On the relationship of Paul to Jesus and why Paul should be seen as an authority for the church and as someone in fundamental unity with the message of Jesus see my blog post: “Adam, the Apostle, and Authority: Paul’s Authoritative Ministry.”  Available online: http://whiterosereview.blogspot.com/2015/01/adam-apostle-and-authority-pauls.html.

     [14] Theodore Plantinga, Learning to Live with Evil (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1982), 59.  Earlier Plantinga commented: “In the final analysis, sin must be understood in terms of the relationship between man and God.  Horrible as murder is, the increasing distance it brings about between man and God is even more horrible.  The sinner turns his back on God and seeks to get even farther away from God.  Sin is transgression, and as such it points always to the One whose law is being trampled underfoot.  Sin never stands still, but is constantly moving, with God as the absolute reference point.” (pp. 23-24).

     [15] The Christian tradition has often spoken of Christ’s death on the cross as a “substitution.”  In the place of those caught in the nexus of rebellious evil and the state of sin, Jesus’ death on the cross is done for them and on their behalf.  Although the theological mechanics of this have been debated the general biblical portrait of substitution is secure.  See J. I. Packer, “What Did the Cross Achieve? The Logic of Penal Substitution” Tyndale Bulletin 25 (1974), 3-45.  Available online: http://www.tyndalehouse.com/tynbul/library/TynBull_1974_25_01_Pakcer_CrossAchieve.pdf.  See also the recent work by Cambridge New Testament scholar Simon Gathercole, Defending Substitution: An Essay on Atonement in Paul (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2015).

     [16] This will of necessity be all-too brief.  Thaddeus Williams mentions Barry Whitney’s published bibliography entitled Theodicy that contains over 4,200 philosophical and theological works on the topic of the problem of evil—this is simply for the years 1960 to 1990.  I would estimate that the subsequent twenty-five years has added nearly as much to the literature.  Thaddeus J. Williams, Love, Freedom, and Evil: Does Authentic Love Require Free Will? (New York: Rodopi, 2011), 3.

     [17] See the particularly helpful taxonomy of problems in Williams, Love, Freedom, and Evil, 5-8.  Williams, thus, concludes: “A portrait emerges in which evil represents not a singular problem but a complex web of problems that entangles the heart and the hands as well as the head.  For the head, how do we understand God’s supreme goodness and power in the many faces of evil?  For the heart, how do we foster relational trust in God’s supreme goodness and power in the many faces of evil?  For the hands, how do we engage in actions that align with God’s supreme goodness and power in the many faces of evil?  What kind of thinking, feeling, and acting can match the combined force of abstract and concrete problems of evil?” 

     [18] A helpful introduction to the deductive and evidential problems of evil is found in three short video presentations by Greg Ganssle of Yale University.  Available online: http://whiterosereview.blogspot.com/2014/11/problem-of-evil-videos-by-dr-greg_5.html.

     [19] As Thaddeus Williams notes: “Here we are confronted with the emotional problems of evil, which multiply with virtually every experience of human heartache and may vary significantly in their intensity, effects, and implicit conclusions from heart to heart.  The failure to distinguish these concrete problems from the less personal and more abstract philosophical problems of evil can lead to a wearying assault of misguided and irrelevant counsel.  Imagine, for example, expounding Augustinian privationism (the notion that evil is not a real thing but lacks positive ontological status) in an effort to console parents who have lost a child at the hands of a drunk driver.  For them, evil is a very real, concrete thing.”  Williams, Love, Freedom, and Evil, 7.  For a moving portrait by a philosopher who has struggled with evil at an existential level see John S. Feinberg, “A Journey in Suffering: Personal Reflections on the Religious Problem of Evil” in Suffering and the Goodness of God, editors, Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2008), 213-237.

[20] “I am not implying that a given intellectual response to abstract problems of evil must simultaneously meet the challenges posed by concrete evil.  Rather, our intellectual responses, at a minimum, ought to comport with how we meet the concrete problems.  Hendrik Vroom, a philosopher, theologian, and former hospital chaplain, stated, ‘Whatever cannot be said in a hospital should not be said in a philosophy or theology text attempting to deal with evil and suffering.’  Epicurus echoes, ‘Vain is the word of a philosopher which does not heal any suffering of man.’”  Williams, Love, Freedom, and Evil, 9.

     [21] “The nonexistence of God may imply the nonexistence of evil.  At the very least anyone who would use the term ‘evil’ while denying God must give this term an intelligible sense.”  David H. Freeman, “On God and Evil” in God and the Good, editors Clifton J. Orlebeke and Lewis B. Smedes (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1975), 174.  William Lane Craig goes further and states: “I would want to say, evil actually proves that God exists because if God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist!  If evil exists, it follows that moral values and duties do exist, namely, some things are evil.  So evil actually proves the existence of God, since in the absence of God, good and evil as such would not exist.  So you cannot press both the problem of evil and agree with my contention that if God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist because evil will actually be an argument for the existence of God.”  William Lane Craig, “Second Rebuttal” in “Is the Foundation of Morality Natural or Supernatural?—A Debate Between William Lane Craig and Sam Harris.”  Transcript available online: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/is-the-foundation-of-morality-natural-or-supernatural-the-craig-harris.

     [22] Alvin Plantinga, “Supralapsarianism, or ‘O Felix Culpa’” in Christian Faith and the Problem of Evil; editor, Peter van Inwagen (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2004), 6.  Available online: http://www.andrewmbailey.com/ap/FelixCulpa.pdf.  Note: page numbers refer to online edition.  Also, see Appendix C for some comments on objections to Plantinga’s view.

     [23] “I believe that the great goodness of this state of affairs, like that of the divine existence itself, makes its value incommensurable with the value of states of affairs involving creaturely good and bad.  Thus the value of incarnation and atonement cannot be matched by an aggregate of creaturely goods.  No matter how many excellent creatures there are in a world, no matter how rich and beautiful and sinless their lives, the aggregated value of their lives would not match that of incarnation and atonement; any world with incarnation and atonement would be better yet.  And no matter how much evil, how much sin and suffering a world contains, the aggregated badness would be outweighed by the goodness of incarnation and atonement, outweighed in such a way that the world in question is very good.”  Plantinga, “Supralapsarianism, or ‘O Felix Culpa’,” 9.

     [24] Marilyn McCord Adams has written: “From a Christian point of view, God is a being a greater than which cannot be conceived, a good incommensurate with both created goods and temporal evils.  Likewise, the good of beatific, face-to-face intimacy with God is simply incommensurate with any merely non-transcendent goods or ills a person might experience.  Thus, the good of beatific face-to-face intimacy with God would engulf … even the horrendous evils human experience in this present life here below, and overcome any prima-facie reasons the individual had to doubt whether his/her life would or could be worth living.”  “Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God,” in The Problem of Evil, eds. Marilyn McCord Adams and Robert Merrihew Adams (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 218.

     [25] The notion of “horrendous evil” comes from Marilyn McCord Adams in her essay “Horrendous Evil and the Goodness of God.”  She defines “horrendous evils” as “’evils the participation in (the doing or suffering of) which give one reason prima facie to doubt whether one’s life could (given their inclusion in it) be a great good to one on the whole.’  Such reasonable doubt arises because it is so difficult humanly to conceive how such evils could be overcome.”  She later includes the crucifixion of Jesus in this category of horrendous evil.  “Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God,” 211, 212.

     [26] Within Thaddeus Williams’ taxonomy this would include “Concrete Problems of Evil in Intra-Fide Emotional Form” which Williams describes as: “The sufferer may be a believer suffering from inside the pale of faith (intra-fide).  In this case, the concrete problem is a distinct problem of continuing to trust the God in whom one has a positive belief and prior relational commitment.”  Also included would be “Concrete Problems of Evil in Extra-Fide Emotional Form” which is described as: “Conversely, the sufferer may suffer from outside the pale of faith (extra-fide).  In this case, the concrete problem forms more of a subjective blockade to initiating trust towards God in whom one lacks any positive belief or prior relational commitment.”  Williams, Love, Freedom, and Evil, 6-7.

     [27] Marilyn McCord Adams, “Redemptive Suffering: A Christian Solution to the Problem of Evil” in Rationality, Religious Belief, and Moral Commitment: New Essays in the Philosophy of Religion, eds. Robert Audi and William J. Wainwright (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1986), 260.  Thaddeus Williams likewise notes: “Unlike us, God can feel the weight of the cumulative travails and triumphs of billions of people, weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice.  His heart is incalculably more adept at complex feeling than our own.”  Williams, Love, Freedom, and Evil, 87.

     [28] James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog—5th ed. (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 2009), 53.

     [29] Sire, The Universe Next Door, 59.

     [30] Avery Dulles, “The Deist Minimum” First Things (January 2005)—available online: http://www.firstthings.com/article/2005/01/the-deist-minimum. 

     [31] Craig argues this case in his debate with Paul Kurtz in the book: Is Goodness without God Good Enough? A Debate on Faith, Secularism, and Ethics; editors, Robert K. Garcia and Nathan L. King (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield).

[32] Paul Copan, “God, Naturalism, and the Foundations of Morality,” in The Future of Atheism: Alister McGrath and Daniel Dennett in Dialogue, ed. Robert Stewart; (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008), 153.  Available online: http://www.paulcopan.com/articles/pdf/God-naturalism-morality.pdf.

     [33] Craig, “This Most Gruesome of Guests,” in Is Goodness without God Good Enough?, 177—bold-face added.  See also Craig’s review of Sam Harris’ book The Moral Landscape in which the same confusions between prudential value and moral value are evident.  “Navigating Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape.  Available online: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/navigating-sam-harris-the-moral-landscape. 

     [34] Steward Goetz and Charles Taliaferro, Naturalism (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2008), 95.
     [35] Alvin Plantinga, “Supralapsarianism, or ‘O Felix Culpa’” in Christian Faith and the Problem of Evil; editor, Peter van Inwagen (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2004), 6.  Available online: http://www.andrewmbailey.com/ap/FelixCulpa.pdf.  Note: page numbers refer to online edition.

     [36] Ian Spencer, “A Mea Culpa for the Felix Culpa?” Midwest Philosophy and Theology Conference Proceedings—vol. 1 (Lincoln University; Jefferson City, Miss.:2008), 23.  Available online with a search under author and title.  Spencer is quoting an objection made by Kevin Diller.

     [37] Spencer, “A Mea Culpa for the Felix Culpa?,”23.

     [38] P. Roger Turner, “Christ the Redeemer and the Best of All Creatable Worlds: Using Alvin Plantinga’s ‘O Felix Culpa’ Theodicy as a Response to William Rowe’s Can God Be Free? and the Underlying Evidential Argument from Evil” Thesis for the Degree of Master of Arts in Religious Studies, Liberty University School of Religion and Graduate School (Lynchburg, Virginia: 2009), 57-58.  Available online: http://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/masters/116/.

     [39] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, [1871], 436.  Quoted in Theodore Plantinga, Learning to Live with Evil (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1982), 72.